Fuller confident in Legislature funding MSU

Minot State University president David Fuller is hopeful that legislators will be favorable to the university’s request to make up some of the difference between what FEMA has reimbursed the university for and the additional costs of flood recovery.

Fuller testified before the state Legislature earlier this month about the challenges the university has faced since the 2011 flood including more than $3 million in budget cuts over the past two years. The budget cuts 3 percent this year and 3 percent last year meant open positions weren’t filled, some adjunct faculty positions were cut, some class sections were consolidated, technology purchases were put off and different departments had to tighten their belts in other ways.

The university had a 6.5 percent drop in student enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year and another 2.5 percent decline in enrollment for the 2012-2013 school year. Before the flood, enrollments had been going up.

Also exacerbating the difficulty is the ongoing oil boom and the housing shortage in Minot. The flood of 2011 took out a lot of rental housing in the vicinity of Minot State that had been used by students and faculty and students have had difficulty finding a place to live.

Flood recovery efforts have also been more expensive than had been originally anticipated. In response to the housing shortage, the university installed 10 modular housing units it calls “Beaver Lodge.” Each housing unit houses up to five students, who each have a private bedroom and share a kitchen, laundry machines and a living room area. It also installed an 8-plex faculty and staff housing called University Apartments to help provide housing for some MSU employees.

In February 2012, the State Board of Higher Education gave the university permission to increase its spending authority by $200,000 from $500,000 to $700,000, for the 8-plex, which is financed with a low-interest loan and paid back from auxiliary reserves, with the amortization period extended from 10 to 15 years. Also that month the university got approval to extend its spending authority by $400,000 for the 10 modular housing units from $2.5 million to $2.9 million, also financed through a low interest loan and paid back from auxiliary reserves in the same time frame as the 8-plex. This month the university sought permission from the state board to increase its spending again for both projects: by $200,000 for the 10 modular housing units, taking the project cost from $2.9 million to $3.1 million, and by $300,000 for the 8-plex, taking the spending allocation for that project from $700,000 to $1 million.

Fuller said it was necessary to provide the housing quickly for students and staff who had been displaced by the flood and the university might have been able to get a better deal on the modular housing had it been able to take more time. The housing was set up on what used to be tennis courts and the cost of the project included the additional infrastructure needed as well as site preparation.

Both the state board of higher education and the legislative budget section have been kept apprised of the ongoing cost of the project and other flood recovery costs.

Fuller said the university was doing well in terms of enrollment and program growth prior to the flood and, had the flood not happened, would be in better shape. Fuller estimated the total flood impact to the university at $5.8 million, including housing costs, fuel and equipment, canceled classes, contract services and infrastructure repairs.

Fuller said some legislators had not been aware of the impact the flood had on Minot and he believes the reaction was favorable. He will testify again during the session.

Minot State is also requesting $1.82 million from the Legislature to relocate its plant services facility to university-owned land near the Grand International. The total cost of the project would be $2.5 million, but the university would use about $676,000 in capital project carryover funds. The land where the current plant services building is now located would in coming years be used for an arts complex under the university’s master plan.

Fuller said he is also pleased that Minot City Council has approved a request from MSU for $1 million each year for four years to pay for the third phase of construction at the Herb Parker Stadium. The funds will pay for construction of a press box, restrooms, concession area and coaches’ boxes. The money will come out of a 1 percent city sales tax that was approved in June 2011. MSU had withdrawn a request to the city council for that project in February 2011. Fuller said that withdrawing the request then was the right thing to do because it was too close to the flood and there were other community needs that took priority.

However, he said he is confident that this project will benefit the community as a whole since many high school games are held at Herb Parker Stadium and events held there bring people to the community, which has a positive economic impact.